The vintage sounds of French Carribean by Blues & Rhythm

After the Second World War the French Carribean biguine underwent a period of modernisation, with clarinettists/bandleaders Castendet and Léardée, both of whom had recorded in the thirties, two of the main protagonists. Sam’s set is a joy from beginning to end, surprisingly modern in approach and in places quite similar to the sound of fifties calypso. He is on drums for all but one of the eighteen titles, all of wich were made for Columbia and he recreates all six titles  from his 1949 session for the Music Monde label. His lyrics are often scathing, pointed, humorous and sometimes dealing with the, er, earthier side of life (in French or Créole, of course), whist Maurice Noiran handles clarinet duties and trombonist Al Lirvat adds vibrant playing that is as distinctive as any in the biguine canon. As half of « Martinalès et Alberto » Al, alongside his Corsican wife Marthe Alessandrini, also supplies sprightly créole vocals  to seven titles . Supplementing these numbers and completing the reissue of all Castendet’s pre-war titles by Fremeaux are a biguine and a rumba recorded in 1936 as by « Jam Castendet » and including trumpeter Bobby Jones, a veteran of Will Marion Cook’s Southern Syncopated Orchestra. Ernest Léardé’s double CD is a much more varied affair, containing many biguines, but as was common with Black bands in Europe at the time he also recorded in other « tropical styles »  (designations on the original labels include « samba », « bolero », « Afro-cubain » and many more). Though the first CD is Léardé’s, and the first twelve titles (half a dozen each from 1952 and 1954) are absolute classics – including « Ces zazous Là », a version of the calypso known in English as « Brownskin Gal » - the second finds him working as accompanist to several vocalists. Some are better than others : Antillean Gilles Sala is fine, Spaniard Severiano Alvarez is « a romantic » vocalist, and Les Sœurs Bordeau and Simone Alma are not entirely devoid of merit, even if only in the accompaniments, despite the latter performing what is designated a « Blues créole ». Singer/guitarist André Salvador is the brother of the better-known entertainer Henri, the man responsible for introducing rock and roll into France. The titles here constitute André’s complete discography and for someone looking for the carribean sound, they are maddeningly inconsistent. Included also, for the sake of completeness (as Ernest Léardée is not present), is André’s very worthy version of Lionel Hampton’s « Hey ! Ba Ba Re Bop », recorded in December 1946. The CD closes with a fourteen-minute excerpt from an interview with Ernest, who died in 1988, aged 92. As stated, the Sam Castendet release is a real gem ; Ernest Léardée’s is more variable in quality though there is enough fine material to make purchase woth considering if you have a taste for the vintage sounds of French Carribean. Norman DARWEN-BLUES &RHYTHM